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Political Notebook: D11 Supe Safai focuses on middle-income housing

by Matthew S. Bajko

Supervisor Ahsha Safai
Supervisor Ahsha Safai  

This week brought the news that a family of four with an income of $105,350 per year is considered "low income" in San Francisco, according to the 2017 income limits determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The median income in the city is $115,300.

As the San Jose Mercury News pointed out, the agency's income level threshold determines who can qualify for affordable and subsidized housing programs such as Section 8 vouchers. In the city a $65,800 annual income is now considered "very low" for a family of four, while $39,500 is "extremely low," noted the paper. 

The news highlights why middle-income families are struggling to afford San Francisco's sky-high housing prices. The average home price in March was nearly $1.2 million and the median rent price was $4,350, according to real estate market and research firm Zillow.

During a recent editorial board meeting with the Bay Area Reporter, freshman District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai said the city's population is being shaped by the cost of housing.

"Fifteen years post the recession, there is really a polarization of our city," said Safai. "Those able to find housing are the wealthy and low-income, while people in the middle â€" teachers, laborers, fire, and police personnel â€" those folks are being squeezed out of the city."

Safai, a former housing authority commissioner, had three main issues he campaigned on last year: middle-income housing, affordable child care, and reviving the city's commercial corridors.

"I campaigned on an agenda to help working families," said Safai, "and this was a big agenda item for me."

He argued that there are "billions of dollars in the pipeline" for low-income housing in San Francisco but nothing for middle-income families.

"If you make over $55,000 it doesn't take care of you and there is no affordable housing being built for that segment of the workforce," said Safai, who had been the political director for San Francisco Janitors Union Local 87.

Considered a part of the Board of Supervisor's six-person moderate majority, Safai is a co-sponsor of legislation with board President London Breed, who represents District 5, and District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang that would change the income eligibility levels for affordable housing. It calls for 18 percent of on-site units to be affordable, split in thirds between low, low-moderate and moderate income levels.

It differs from a proposal sponsored by District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim that calls for the inclusionary units to adhere closer to the 25 percent called for by Proposition C, which voters passed last year. It breaks the requirement into 15 percent for low and moderate-income and 10 percent for middle-income earners.

The planning commission is set to take up the matter at its meeting Thursday, with staff recommending it support the proposal from the moderate supervisors. The proposals will then head to the supervisors for a vote.

"The market used to take care of the middle. But now homes in the Excelsior are going for $1 million and approaching that in the Bayview," said Safai. "The market will never again take care of middle-income households."

A first generation American of Iranian descent, Safai was born in Iran and, at the age of 5, moved with his mother to Cambridge, Massachusetts. After graduating from Northeastern University in 2000, he and his wife, Yadira, who was born in San Francisco, moved to the city. They live in the Excelsior with their two children.

Safai worked for former mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom . In 2008 he lost to former Supervisor John Avalos for the District 11 seat, which includes the city's southern neighborhoods of the Excelsior, Ingleside, Oceanview, Outer Mission, and Crocker-Amazon.

With Avalos termed out of office last year, Safai ran again and defeated Kimberly Alvarenga, a lesbian and the political director of Service Employees International Union Local 1021. Now a co-chair of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Alvarenga would have been the first lesbian elected to a supervisor seat in nearly two decades.

Nonetheless, Safai received support from within the LGBT community â€" he received a first choice endorsement from the B.A.R. â€" and pledged to support LGBT issues as supervisor. He is a co-sponsor of the resolution introduced by Kim that calls for the creation of the Compton's Cultural District, which would create the country's first transgender historic district in a portion of the Tenderloin.

In recent weeks progressives have criticized Safai, who chairs the board's rules committee, for an apparent effort to replace police Commissioner Petra DeJesus, a lesbian and lawyer whose term expires April 30, with Olga Miranda , the president of the janitors union. Last week the online news site 48 Hills questioned if Miranda, who until this month was registered to vote in Albany where she owns a home, meets the rule that only San Francisco residents can serve on the oversight body having so recently moved and registered to vote in the city.

What is likely at play with the appointment is the long-running policy debate over arming the police with Tasers. New Police Chief William Scott favors doing so, while DeJesus has for years questioned their effectiveness and has voted against equipping officers with stun guns.

Safai, who supports the chief's call for Tasers, told the B.A.R. the way the supervisors can support Scott's request is by being "thoughtful on whom we put on the police commission. That is the main way the board can have influence on Tasers."



Last week's column incorrectly reported how much in pro bono work the law firm Latham and Watkins LLP has provided to Equality California to help it create a scorecard on LGBT policies at public schools. The firm has provided the statewide LGBT advocacy group more than $250,000 in free services to date.


Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the retirement of San Diego's lesbian district attorney.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail



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